“We are living in very dangerous times and we’re worried about a number of things.”
The tone for Sunday’s town hall was set early by US Representative Jared Polis where the line stretched down the sidewalk to get into Broomfield High School for a packed meeting.
“It usually happens in the library side rooms with like 30 people. Here today I think we’re at about 1000 people.”
Polis outlined his concerns and those of other Democrats in the areas of the environment, healthcare, education and public concerns about accountability of the presidency.
“There are so many bad things going on, we can’t possibly follow them all.”
Concerning the environment, Polis said that he is watching Republican efforts to roll back environmental protections, the selling off of public lands, eliminating the Endangered Species Act, and proposals to de-fund the Environmental Protection Agency.
“In healthcare we’re all worried about rolling back the protections of the Affordable Care Act in particular Medicaid expansion subsidies for middle incomers.” Polis said he opposes pricing discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions and opposes the cuts to mental healthcare. He criticized the “enormous” tax cuts to the wealthy inherent in a Republican plan, “It’s an enormous transfer of wealth under the guise of healthcare reform.” He added the catastrophe that repealing or eliminating protections within the ACA without a replacement plan would have, “The thought process seems to have been ‘repeal’ and then ‘oh wait we needed a replacement, let’s quickly put something together.’ It turns out, it’s quite complicated.” Polis emphasized his interest in improving the ACA, and not taking away protections that currently exist.
In education, Polis expressed his belief that some “more radical” proposals won’t translate into changes in policy. Proposals to increase military spending will be met with resistance when those cuts also mean cuts to funding education. Polis, who is ranking member of the Early Childhood, Kindergarten, K-12 Education Subcommittee, said he is fighting what is called Title I Portability, the transferring of funds away from schools that serve low-income schools to wealthy schools. Currently under Title I, schools that serve the low-income population receive resources for literacy coaches and educators for example, “What this effort is, is it would disperse that money across other schools and remove the focus that we have on trying to close the achievement gap.
Concerning the office of the presidency Polis warned, “What we have with President Trump is a whole set of transparency, accountability and integrity issues. That is what is so extraordinary at this point in time.” Those accountability issues he said were whether the president owes something to another government and whether any of Trump’s advisers are receiving benefits from foreign entities. Polis said that he signed a resolution that instructs the Department of Justice to release details about a potential conflict of interest within the presidency, the announcement of which drew loud applause.
Sitting in the audience though was Patricia Ledesma, PhD who went a step further in evaluating accountability. Ledesma, a practicing psychologist for 35 years, was one of 25,000 petition signers identifying themselves as mental health professionals who question the mental health of the president to fulfill the duties of the office. “He doesn’t know the difference between what is true and not true. He sees crowd sizes that are not there. He looks at things from his point of view as winning or not winning and that’s all he cares about. I spoke today because as a psychologist I felt an obligation as a duty to warn if a president is unstable.. It really is a true ethics issue for me.” She encouraged the public and Polis to take another look at the 25th Amendment. Polis happened to have a copy in his hands and read from it, “The 25th Amendment involves protections when somebody is unfit for office.” Ledesma lamented though that a serious raising of the 25th Amendment would probably not happen because Trump is “surrounded by enablers.”
Polis was a signer onto H.R. 530 SECURE Our Democracy Act currently in the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations. The Act would provide a penalty for unlawful interference in federal elections.
The Presidential Accountability Act that Polis supports would require the release of the president’s tax returns but he added, “What we really need is a full and independent investigation. The Ways and Means Committee in the House has the authority to request the president’s tax returns, but for us to use that institutional power, that includes an independent investigation, since Republicans are in the majority.”
Regarding a possible impeachment proceedings, Polis stressed the requirement in the process for the commission of a crime. Although US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has had between two or three meetings with the Russian ambassador according to Polis, “And likely committed perjury before a subcommittee, what we don’t know is, was he directed to do so by the president, or was it something he did on his own? This is why we need a fair-minded and objective investigation to see if there were any high crimes or misdemeanors that were committed.”
On the positive side, Polis listed bipartisan advancements including a bill he has championed that expanded the boundary of the Rocky Mountain National Forest in Grand County, meshing state cannabis laws with federal ones, industrial hemp laws, and some college affordability legislation.
Current methods in repaying college loans would be replaced with a sliding scale/income based schedule according to a formula. The proposed changes would also benefit employers who match employee contributions to repayments by receiving a tax preference.
Last week Polis said he proposed an amendment to the ACA that includes a public option that he hopes will see traction. He also co-sponsored a constitutional amendment to eliminate the electoral college, but conceded to the challenges of passing constitutional amendments. He favored making changes at the state level.
Polis listed the only four constitutional amendments that he has sponsored:
1. Getting rid of the electoral college
2. Overturning Citizen’s United
3. An equal rights amendment
4. Balancing the budget (similar to Colorado’s)
Since the president and Congress have expressed an interest in improving infrastructure and accomplishing tax reforms, Polis hopes that tax reforms will include a return of money to Americans through the elimination of subsidies to the oil and gas industries. He’s hoping that tax incentives will go to renewable energy instead of the fossil fuel industry.
Aides held about a 6-inch stack of questions submitted by the audience. One comment thanked Polis for submitting a letter to Broomfield City Council in support of the fracking moratorium that was in effect until it was voted down last month. Polis criticized Colorado State Attorney General Cynthia Coffman for suing Boulder County for its fracking moratorium in response to a question posed by Becky Benedict of Erie about why Coffman has not sued Trump for his recent Muslim travel ban. She asked Polis what it would take to move Coffman to stand with Hawaii in suing Trump to which he responded, “She’s too busy suing Boulder County.”
A question from a volunteer who works with immigrants described the fear in his students and questioned why Trump did not have to prove “just cause” that his travel bans would actually deter terrorism. Polis acknowledge that what the president has done is accentuate the crimes that have been committed by a chosen few immigrants rather than the benefits that the immigrant community provides to the country. Polis announced his proposal for a new task force, the Saved by American Immigrants National Taskforce (SAINT) that will instead, accentuate the stories of immigrants who have “positively contributed to U.S. society through heroic or lifesaving acts.”
“There are many Americans who are alive today only because of the heroic acts of immigrants who saved their lives.”